Keegan Daniel last represented the Cell C Sharks in Vodacom Super Rugby two years ago, missing out last year and also in the first game of the 2018 season after .
“It was frustrating last year,” he explains. “I broke my arm early in the season and the team was going so well that when I was available, it was hard to get a look in. Then I was sick before the Lions game two weeks ago so it hasn’t been ideal starts to two seasons.
“But it feels nice to get the boots on and get back into action. For me, this is the premier competition in the world and it’s great to be involved again.”
The other frustration is the draw the Cell C Sharks managed out of their clash with the Waratahs this past Saturday, a game Daniel admits was theirs for the taking.
“In any situation, when you have a team on the ropes and you don’t put them away, it is frustrating. We had so many opportunities but just didn’t convert them. But it is still early in the competition and we’ve been back at the grindstone this week preparing for the Sunwolves.”
Looking at the mistakes made and venturing an opinion on what might be stifling their best efforts, he explains: “I don’t think it’s over-eagerness, you don’t want to curb anyone’s enthusiasm or creativity. The margins are miniscule between being a hero and being a villain.
“As long as the guys are trying something new or exciting, if they’re willing to be creative, eventually it’s going to pay off. We’re not far off, it’s not like we’re tossing games away, I think we’re pretty much on the right track. We just need one or two things to click and we’ll convert those opportunities.”
As a senior player, one who has captained the side to glory and played a leadership role for many years, he denies that this adds pressure to the demands of his position.
“Pressure is why we play this game, those make or break moments in a game are the attraction and why we want to be here, we enjoy living on the edge. Ultimately it is for the guys who have been around to carry the youngsters and it’s up to us to absorb that pressure as much as possible. Although we have one or two newbies, I wouldn’t call the younger players in our team ‘youngsters’, they’ve been around now for a bit and we have a fairly settled squad.”
The Sunwolves come to Durban off the back of a tough start to their campaign and like the Cell Sharks, will have every intention of playing to win.
“They have had some horrific injury problems and that depletion really hurts your squad. The foreigners in their team have Super Rugby experience and add massive value to the Sunwolves. They started the comp fairly well before slipping up in their second game. They’re a team that can rock up any weekend and cause an upset; we aren’t taking this game lightly.”
The Japanese side play an exciting brand of rugby, one which is sure to test us on defence. Having spent some time playing club rugby there, Daniel is qualified to analyse them and explains: “Japanese rugby is generally a high tempo, high pace style of rugby. They’ve already shown vast improvement from last year. We’ve done our homework and identified some of their strengths and weaknesses.
“If you look at the timing of their local competition, they don’t have a lot of time to prepare as a Super Rugby squad. I’ve had the privilege of playing there and the level of physicality isn’t as high as a Currie Cup or NPC. For me, Vodacom Super Rugby is the premier competition where some of the best players in the world play. This is a game of physicality and if you can’t match the opposition there, you are going to struggle.”
Finally, there is the importance of what a win will do before the team tours. Although there is pressure on the Cell C Sharks, Daniel admits that it’s nothing different to any week.
“There’s pressure every weekend. If you’ve won five in a row, there’s pressure to maintain your winning ways. If you lose five in a row, there’s pressure on you to win the next one.
“Ultimately, for us, I think we’re close. I don’t think we’re far off. We’re creating some great opportunities, we’re just not converting and that’s what’s hurting us. Once we start converting, we’ll be ok.”